Democracy in French-speaking Africa

SAHEL IN ENGLISH: France has strangely managed to preserve the hegemony over its former colonies, including in the dissemination of knowledge. This book is a much needed exception, which provides the background for understanding the recent coup in Mali.

Hansen is a professor of social sciences at UiS and a regular reviewer at Ny Tid.

Democratic Struggle
Institutional Reform
and State Resilience in the African Sahel

SAHEL IN ENGLISH: France has, in a strange way, managed to preserve the hegemony over its former colonies, also in terms of the dissemination of knowledge. This book is a much-needed exception, which provides the background for understanding the recent coup in Mali.

(Note: The article is mostly machine-translated from Norwegian by Gtranslate)

It is rare that professional literature on the former French colonies is published in Africa in English. With the exception of one of the editors for Democratic Struggle who are americans, all of the writers are africans from Sahel, the region they write about. All have doctoral degrees and are either professors, political advisers or civil society leaders. The six Sahel countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso,, Niger and Chad, each devoted a chapter while the editors set theoretical frameworks and compare.

It is refreshing to have a book about French-speaking Africa that does not allow French researchers to become the most central or allow France to be the references it's all about. This is about the internal political dynamics since the beginning of democratization in the Sahel in the early 1990s.

Formal democracies

When the Berlin Wall fell (1989) and Francis Fukuyama proclaimed "the end of history" (1992) and claimed that liberal democracy was the world's only remaining ideological government, the democratization processes in Africa also began.

All the Sahel countries went from being military one-party states to becoming formal democracies within a few years. In Mali and Chad The changes took place in coups committed by military leaders. The difference was that General Idriss Déby ran as a candidate and was elected president of Chad, while Captain Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) arranged free elections in Mali without running as a candidate yourself. The eloquent intellectual historian Alpha Konaré became Mali's first democratically elected president.

PHOTO: pixabay

After being re-elected in 1997, he accepted the constitution and did not stand for election in 2002. However, the coup maker did so in 1991, and Touré became president in 2002. Mali, which throughout the 1990s was described as a "beacon of democracy", was praised in order to respect freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and free elections, a president with a military background was re-elected, admittedly elected, but with an election turnout of less than 30 percent, one can discuss how democratically elected he was. Touré ruled Mali without much respect for the formal institutions – important decisions were made by the president even after informal consultations and consensus with stakeholders.

Military coup in Mali

When the unknown captain Amadou Sanogo led a successful military coup in Mali in March 2012, it was quickly seen that the beacon of democracy was actually a house of cards built in sand. One of the reasons for the military coup was that the army had been neglected in the last decade. Wages, equipment and training were poor. In addition, the army was split after 2006, when Tuareg rebels made peace with the state against 3000 of them being incorporated into the regular army, 150 of them officers. Da Gaddafi fell i libya in October 2011, several thousand Tuaregs had traveled home to Mali with large quantities of weapons.

On August 18 this year, the military once again staged a coup in Mali and ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK). IBK had disappointed at least as much as its predecessor ATT. Not only had he neglected salaries and equipment for the army, but state corruption had increased. The parliamentary elections in April were marked by widespread cheating and the security situation in the north, despite the presence of 5100 foreign peacekeepers, had not improved.

PHOTO: Pixabay
PHOTO: Pixabay


In Chad, from the very beginning, democracy was only formally established, without the population gaining any real influence. Formal democratic institutions such as elections, parliament and courts were created, but their real influence in governing the country remained minimal. During a three-month national conference with many hundreds of participants from civil society, politicians and religious leaders, various types of state power distribution were discussed, including a new constitution, but the president Idriss Déby always found ways to get around the decisions he did not like.

All the Sahel countries went from being military one-party states to becoming formal
democracies in a few years.

He has been so good at it that he is still president of Chad 30 years after the coup when he ousted General Habré for poor governance, lack of respect for human rights and corruption. Déby has won six presidential elections and introduced a new constitution that makes it legal for him to remain in office until 2031.

Regular elections in Senegal

One country in the region that stands out as clearly more democratic than the others is Senegal. There is no talk here that it is difficult to distinguish between the president's "abuse or only overuse" of power, as is done in the chapter on Niger. Nor about the manipulation of institutions, as the chapter on Burkina Faso emphasizes. In Senegal, power has never taken power in military coups. Ever since the mid-1970s, regular multi-party elections have been held.

Toure, Deby, Diouf and Keita. Photo: Wikipedia

When the new wave of democratization hit Senegal in the early 1990s, Abdou Diouf had been president since 1981. He won the presidential election in 1993, but accepted the election defeat in 2000 and resigned voluntarily in favor of election winner Abdoulaye Wade. This was proof that Senegal had a working democracy.

Wade passed a new constitution in which it was confirmed that the president could only be re-elected once. Wade was re-elected in 2007, but since the new constitution was introduced by that he was elected for the first time, he was allowed to run as a candidate also in 2012. Then he lost to Macky Sall and accepted the defeat. Sall was re-elected in March last year, in an election that was considered free and fair by the EU.

This is a book that may not want to teach specialists in the Sahel much new. But as a textbook for students in African studies or at universities struggling to find good texts in English about democracy in French-speaking Africa, I would highly recommend it.

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